On campus interviewing ("OCI") season at law schools used to be a fun exercise for employers and students alike. Partners at major law firms enjoyed visiting former stomping grounds and spreading "call back" offers to law students with good grades who showed up on time for their interviews. Students at top 20 law schools, and often beyond, enjoyed freedom of choice. One could even try a summer associate position in a new city, knowing that home city options would still be available after graduation.
Of course, that's all ancient history. The percentage of law students who secure jobs via OCI will go down again for the third straight year. Law school career services offices, once viewed as cushy corners within the legal profession, are under tremendous pressure to improve OCI results. The main emphasis is placed on wooing additional employers to campus. In fact, my prediction that large in-house legal departments will engage in entry level hiring is already coming true. Granted, the raw numbers for in-house entry level hiring are still small.
The other strategy for improving OCI results is to truly prepare students for the experience. I now serve three law schools that engage me for a few days in September to conduct mock interviews with students. I role play any one of multiple employer types, depending on the school's profile and student preference. Then I provide individual coaching to improve interview performance.
I believe this exercise also improves interviewing advice that I offer to you, the experienced inside counsel. I am reminded that enthusiasm and self-confidence rule in any interview situation, and that lack of either can kill or stall the most qualified of candidacies. Hesitant answers, poor eye contact, and apologies for nothing in particular are somewhat common in student interviews - and I assure you that I am a teddy bear of an interviewer. Some of these sessions can be downright painful. By comparison, when I get a young adult who exudes energy and self esteem, I find myself going above and beyond the mock interview to help that person.
Another hopefully helpful observation for you is what I term "anticipating needs." In the mock interview context, students are given details on fictional employers. If grading, those students who make no use of this information get a C or D. Students who parrot a fact or two from the prep material would get a B. At least they demonstrate a willingness to prepare. The A goes to students who turn the prep material into a pitch for how he or she can add value to the firm/company. I even had one student in a mock law firm scenario explain how he could apply his Facebook and Twitter acumen to my business development efforts. That's an A+.
For experienced inside counsel, anticipating needs is where you will stand out from sophisticated peers who are also presenting themselves with enthusiasm and confidence. Offer your potential new boss the priceless gift of taking work off his or her plate. Explain why your learning curve will be short. Always think in terms of what the employer might want. Send the message that you truly want the opportunity at hand.